It’s time for the 2004 Somewhere Cold Hall of Fame. We have picked 11 best of’s and some other awards like Artist of the Year, etc. We have thought long and hard over this and feel our list is a list of must haves for any music lover.
THE TOP TEN
A Tie For #1
1) Bark Psychosis: ///Codename: DustSucker: The year 2004 will always be remembered as the year of the return of the enigmatic Bark Psychosis. After a decade-long hiatus, the band (the brainchild of Graham Sutton), released ///Codename: DustSucker, a breathtaking collection of tracks that combined subtlety, space, pseudo-improvisation, careful arrangements, and deceptively crafted songs. From the light and airy “400 Winters” to the dark and cavernous “INQB8TR”, Bark Psychosis amazed us with the sum of their noteworthy musical components (such as excellent drumming by Talk Talk’s Lee Harris, a variety of lead vocalists including Sutton’s brooding vocals, intelligent bass lines, samples, guitars, and other sounds). Bark Psychosis takes these sometimes-disparate elements and unites them to create a lasting and fulfilling listening experience. This truly remarkable release gets our vote to share honours for our CD of the year.
1) The Sound Gallery: Designed for Reading: Herb Grimaud has proven, with his debut album, that he is a master of the ambient genre. Being a fan of Brian Eno and Charity Empressa, Herb brings to the genre a beauty few have been able to express. This disc is beautiful and peaceful, yet, at the same time, tense and sometimes horrifying. Herb is able to evoke emotion and build a set of songs that will amaze any listener. Every track fits with the other and there is no incoherence here. The vision is solid, put together, and altogether breathtaking. He has taken the brush of keyboards, guitar, percussion, bass, and vocals and made a lush music-scape beyond my wildest dreams.
2) Frank Lenz: Conquest Slaughter: Somehow, Frank Lenz found the time amidst his busy producing and drumming schedule to record and release his 3rd solo release, Conquest Slaughter. And, somehow, Lenz found time enough to sit down and create a wonderful album of quirky psych-folk-rock-pop songs. The songs on Conquest Slaughter were as accessible and poppy as they were experimental, and Lenz bravely balanced the art of crafting strong melodies while encasing them in interesting and provocative arrangements. What results from Lenz’s efforts are 10 songs full of peculiar but potent lyrics, strong songwriting, untamed creativity, and, all in all, great music!
3) Sufjan Stevens: Seven Swans: Coming out at the beginning of 2004, Seven Swans demonstrated that Stevens has the ability to really make beautifully naked, stripped down music. Stevens’ fourth disc is almost liturgical and tackles topics I would think a musician of his caliber might avoid due to his popularity coming on the horizon. He sings of Abraham and Isaac, soul searching, and many personal moments in his life. This disc is both simple and lush at the same time. It really brings out the best in the listener, evoking all that is good in a person and calling it forth. Swans is truly brilliant piece of work.
4) Coastal: Halfway to You: With a lush, warm sound that lazily drifts to the sky, Coastal’s second full-length CD, Halfway to You instantly caught our attention and eventually captured our hearts. Coastal expanded their musical palette by incorporating a wider range of sonic flourishes into their trademark pristine melodies, chimey guitars, languid percussion and male-female harmonies. Halfway to You reveals a band who has found its own niche by effortlessly creating their recognizable brand of lingering slowcore.
5) Richard Swift: The Richard Swift Collection Vol. 1: This is a collection of Richard Swift’s highly acclaimed Novelist ep and an older album that was unreleased entitled Walking Without Effort. This set of albums is a tour de force for a rising musician. His ability to recall the music of the 1930’s while making that sound modern both with lyrics and subtle sounds is brilliant. With only a few songs released in his new career, he has already proven that he is a consummate musician and songwriter.
6) Ln: The Dirt Floor Hotel Part 1: Gary Murray and his rotating cast of supporting musicians wowed us again, this time with their stripped-down The Dirt Floor Hotel Part 1. Featuring sparse arrangements that draw from slowcore, folk, and soundscape/ambient leanings, The Dirt Floor Hotel Part 1 was haunting and affecting. Murray et al spun their tales of woe, brokenness, and (ultimately) redemption in a mysterious and inspired fashion that intrigues and captivates the listener.
7) Rachel Goswell: Waves are Universal: On Waves, Goswell shows a side of herself not seen before. Having arisen from bands like Slowdive and Mojave 3, she has proven to be a great part of great bands, but now, she has certainly proven her ability to make her own music and take the front position. Her music is open, honest with a singer-songwriter flavor sprinkled with innovative sounds and fantastic percussion. Her personal vision is amazing and should be heard by the masses.
8) Castanets: Cathedral: Alt-country, if the Castanets’ debut CD could even be pinned with such a label, has never sounded so deliciously compelling. Raymond Raposa, yet another enigmatic talent to surface in 2004, leads a rag-tag cast of musicians and performers through a CD of dark gothic gems about doubt and isolation. Through it all, the Castanets are able to chart new territory in music while following their lyrical theme to its logical conclusion. Disturbing, enlightening, invigorating and provocative, Cathedrals captures the dark side of humanity in a vividly raw manner, and does so with a highly extreme standard of musical integrity.
9) The Brother Kite: S/T: Clairecords has really found some of the most innovative shoegaze bands of this generation. The Brother Kite came out with their debut LP in 2004 on Clairecords and have brought to the genre innovation. Patrick, the front man, actually has his vocals up front instead of typically steeped in the wash of noise. His voice really brings a great depth to The Brother Kite’s sound. They also have a great ability to make an intricate, purposeful layering of their guitars. The melodies are intricate and their sound huge. Bringing in occasional female BVG’s, violins, and 80’s pop sensibilities, this is definitely not your typical shoegazer album.
10) They Sang As They Slew: Get Well: The inclusion of Get Well into our yearly list of noteworthy CD’s reveals not only our openness to covering music that is not a part of our usual slow-dreamy ethos that we have developed on this site, but it’s also a testament to Get Well’s appeal as a musical accomplishment. On their first release for Northern Records, They Sang As They Slew captured the heart of raw rock and roll while not forsaking an intelligent approach to their music (as evidenced in their poetic lyrics and complex songwriting).
ARTIST OF THE YEAR:
Bark Psychosis: Sometimes, the wait for an incredible album from a great band can be worth it. Bark Psychosis happily came out of hiding after 10 years to release one of the most impressive discs of 2004. Usually, we would give the title of best artist to someone prolific as well as consistent, but not this time. Graham Sutton and company has done incredible work, with intricate compositions mixed with intelligent songwriting. All I can say is, “Please Graham, don’t wait 10 more years!”
LABEL OF THE YEAR:
Clairecords: It is awesome to find a label that puts out a good number of albums during a year and has 99.9% of them be consistently amazing. In 2004, that label would have to be Clairecords. With releases from Airiel, Air Formation, Highspire, Hartfield, Monster Movie, Sciflyer (LP), Secret Shine (re-release), and The Brother Kite, Dan has hunted down and captured some of the best blissed-out new generation shoegaze bands in the market. I can’t wait to see what 2005 holds for Clairecords and for music fans alike.
COMPILATION OF THE YEAR:
A Houseguest’s Wish: The line-up of this tribute to Wire is impressive on its own! With bands like Flying Saucer Attack, Lush, Fiel Garvie, The Meeting Places, Adam Franklin of Swervedriver, Titania, and many others contributing tracks to this compilation, A Houseguest’s Wish does not lack in talent. And yet, not only does the CD feature great bands playing different variations on dreampop/shoegaze/slowcore/indie-pop, but the uniting concept (where each band covers the same Wire song, “Outdoor Miner”) of the project is executed perfectly. What results from this concept is a collection of intriguing and varying interpretations of one brilliant little pop song.
EP OF THE YEAR:
Pas/cal: Oh Honey, We’re Ridiculous: The brightness and poppy gladness that emits from the grey city of Detroit from Pas/cal is amazing. They have the ability to take older style 60s and 70s pop and make it fresh. They recall the Beach Boys and the Beatles mixed with modern indie-pop sensibilities. Even though they are pop in the traditional sense, their songs are intricate and meaningful. From the beginning note of Oh Honey to the very last, the listener is captivated and taken on a blissful pop ride. Oh Honey is perfect pop for the modern music lover.
VINYL OF THE YEAR:
Sufjan Stevens: Greetings from Michigan: This was our best album of the 2003 and deserves mention one more time. This time, Michigan has been released on beautiful vinyl with two 12”s, extended liner notes, gorgeous artwork and extra tracks. There are five unreleased tracks on the second 12” that are amazing. The artwork and the extra track really combine to make a fabulous re-release of this fantastic piece of art.